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Special Event

Gov. Bush: 'I'm a Uniter, Not a Divider'

Aired February 29, 2000 - 10:02 a.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Right now we want to take you live to Cleveland, where George W. Bush is answering reporters' questions at a campaign stop.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) is that a concern that both those public schools are being privatized?

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No. First of all, charter schools, at least in my state, no matter who the administrator is, is a public school. The money follows the child. Secondly, the question we need to ask is, are they working, are children learning to read and write and add and subtract, are children meeting standards. And if so, we ought to thank whoever runs the school, and if not, we ought to expect a change. My question that I always ask is, what are the results, recognizing that the path to excellence can come in different -- different ways, and charter schools is an excellent way to do so. I -- charter schools provide outlets for educational entrepreneurs, and charter schools provide outlets for parents who are frustrated with the status quo.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

BUSH: Well, I -- I'll turn to the governor and say, governor, since education is a local -- is an issue of local control, what are you going to do. In the meantime, I'm going to pass power out of Washington, D.C., to local jurisdictions so the governors and local jurisdictions have more flexibility and authority with public money. To the extent that we spent federal money on the Cleveland public schools, I'm going to ask the question: what are the results. Show us whether or not the Title I schools are achieving standards, show us that the children who go to Title I education institutions can read and write and add and subtract. And if they can't, if they can't meet basic standards, then the money will no longer go to fund the schools, it will go to the parents so parents can make different choices.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

BUSH: Well, I came to Catholic Charities because I want to herald the greatness of America, and the greatness of America lies in the hearts and souls of our citizens. The programs that exist here in this -- that will exist in this building are programs that change people's lives, and government ought to realize that. My regret is I didn't speak out against anti-Catholic bias when I had an opportunity to do so. I was -- I had the mike and I talked about much of what -- the theme of the speech was we can together make a better tomorrow, and I talked about education and I talked about strengthening the military to keep the peace and I talked about economic growth. But I didn't talk about something that I regret I should have, which is to stand up and say, I don't appropriate the anti-Catholic bias here at Bob Jones, and that's what my letter to Cardinal O'Connor was about.

People know my record. People know my record in Texas. I brought people together, I've been an inclusive governor. And I don't appreciate the politics that still goes on out of Senator McCain, the politics of saying one thing and doing another, the politics of saying, I'm going to run a campaign and tell the truth, when in fact this is a man who yesterday authorized calls into the Commonwealth of Virginia calling me an anti-Catholic bigot. That kind of politics needs to be set aside. It's the kind of politics that John F. Kennedy rejected in the 1960s. It's the kind of politics that we thought we put behind us in America. It's the kind of politics that continues to persist today because of Senator McCain.

Yes, Carl (ph).

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

BUSH: Yes.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

BUSH: Senator McCain ought to stop those ads. Senator McCain ought to do what he says he's going to do. The Straight Talk Express should not be the Parse Talk Express. He ought to be a man who does what he says he's going to do. He says he's going to run a clean campaign yet he's got calls going into the Commonwealth of Virginia calling me an anti-Catholic bigot, which is...

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

BUSH: Yes, he ought not to be doing it. Of course he ought to apologize.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

BUSH: Yes. Why did you bring it up, thank you, ruining my morning.

(LAUGHTER)

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

BUSH: You never know who's going to show up, and I'm going to run strong here in the state of Ohio amongst Republicans and like- minded independents. If Gore Democrats choose to come into this primary it could have an effect. I don't think they will, but it could have an effect if they choose to come. And the only thing I know to do is to rally the -- is to unite the Republican Party around common themes like making sure every child is educated, by having a welfare system that is compassionate, that talks about keeping the peace by strengthening the military. I want to remind Republicans and like-minded independents that I'm the person who's had an executive position, and I can point to positive results as to where my reforms have worked.

Thanks for bringing up a sore subject.

QUESTION: Governor, how many (OFF-MIKE)?

BUSH: Senator McCain? I'm going to continue campaigning hard, and we'll see how the elections go today. I've got a record. Just going to keep talking about my positive accomplishments as governor of the second-biggest state in the union. I've been in a leadership position. I'm going to continue to work to unite our party and welcome independents into our primary, particularly those who vote for me.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

BUSH: I don't know. We've had six or seven debates already. I mean, we -- as I recall, you all were suffering from debate fatigue at one point, and I'm not saying I was. But I look forward to the Los Angeles debate. I'm going. I will be there. I will be sitting in my chair, ready to talk. And I hope we spend a lot of time talking about education. I have a vision for education, and I have a record for education. And my opponent, Senator McCain, has been largely silent on education. He's been in the Senate for 17 years. It's hard to point out any education reform that he has advocated.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

BUSH: No, I feel great. As a matter of fact, I'm quite the opposite. I feel like -- I feel like things are -- things are coming my way. I feel like the campaign is progressing very well. In order to have discipline and focus, and I'm disciplined and focused on one things, and that's winning the Republican nomination. Then I'll be disciplined and focused on winning the general election, and.

Yes, Cadulski (ph).

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

BUSH: No, I don't view -- I'm a uniter, not a divider. I don't believe there's a deep divide. As a matter of fact, when you look at the results amongst Republicans who are voting in the primaries, I'm winning overwhelmingly, and -- which means it's going to be easy to unite our party and lead us to victory. It's been my record. It's what I've done as governor. I know how to unite people. I don't like the politics of pitting one group of people against another, the politics of pointing fingers. I like that politics advocated by somebody like Ronald Reagan, who was a uniter. He didn't stand up and pit groups of people against each other. He didn't have a spiteful agenda, he had an optimistic agenda, as do I.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

BUSH: I believe that I can unite our party and lead us to victory. I no the punditry is all focused on some kind of apparent split. I don't see it that way. I see it as an opportunity to -- after a good battle for the nomination an opportunity to bring people together to win. I mean, one of the interesting facts is that Republicans and independents are pouring into our primaries. They're coming -- they're looking for somebody who can lead us. A lot of young voters are coming into the Republican primary and they're supporting me because I have an optimistic and hopeful vision. They want to follow somebody who says there is a better tomorrow, and they're finding that in George W. Bush. So I see this as a great opportunity to win. I see this as a moment that I intend to cease to lead us to victory.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

BUSH: I'm winning by double digits because I've got a positive message, that I'm a proven leader, that I'm strong on education. The people in the state of Ohio want somebody who knows how to lead when it comes to educating our children. And so, you know, a 17-point lead is indicative that people want me to the be the nominee.

Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

BUSH: Yes. Well, I appreciate that. First and foremost is to tell the truth. There's a lot of young people who get disillusioned when they see political figures say one thing and do another; political figures who say, I'm going to campaign one way, and campaign another way; political figures who, when they take the oath of office, don't uphold the dignity and honor of the office. So step one is to uphold the dignity and honor of the office and tell the truth.

Secondly is to call upon the best of our citizenry; is to remind people that while materialism is fine, it's empty in the long run unless there's something more than materialism; is to present people with a different opportunity to serve. It's one thing to go work everyday, and that's great, to help feed your families or to have a career, but there's more to life, and that part is to serve others, is to hear the call, and that's what a leader does. A leader inspires.

I know something about the youth vote. I've raised two young voters, and I know where their minds are, and their minds, of course, are -- they care about their country a lot but they also care about their college career, and they care about their friends, and they're interested in, you know, what's going on in society. So it's -- a leader is somebody who's able to break through the clutter and remind people of the importance of serving the country. And I'm going to inspire and call upon people, and young people have been coming to our primary more so than ever before, and they're supporting me, for which I am most grateful.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) BUSH: Calling Republicans and Democrats together to work together to make sure that there is a Social Security system available for you. And the best way to make sure there is one is to have personal savings accounts so young people -- their option can manage their own money in the private sector, so the compounding rate of interest will make sure that there are benefits available.

QUESTION: Governor, (OFF-MIKE) are they worth trying to save, or is (OFF-MIKE) charter schools (OFF-MIKE)?

BUSH: Well, the answer to your question is, yes, all of the above, all of the above. Every school, every child -- let me -- you see, your question was, are schools worth willing to save. And the answer is, children are important to save. It's really important that we save children. And if the school is able to save children, it's willing -- it's worth willing to save.

The question that is oftentimes asked in public education is, how old are you, so oftentimes these urban schools have inherited students with a question was asked, somehow old are you. And if you're 12, your supposed to be here, and if you're 16 you're supposed to be here. In other words, it's such a process-oriented world that children are simply shuffled through, shuffled through.

What has to happen is we need to ask the question, what do you know. There needs to be accountability with a -- with -- with muscle. There needs to be consequences to the accountability system. This man asked a question. The public -- he said, his statement, a declarative statement, the public schools in Cleveland are failing, which is the first step toward reform to make sure children are saved. The first fundamental step is to acknowledge that there's failure, that something is wrong, that somewhere along the line the system has failed people.

In order to address the issue, one, it's important to start early with children, but two, it's important to provide different opportunities. And so I don't view a charter school and a public school as zero-sum education. I view them as complimentary. I view a charter school movement will enhance public -- the standard public school in the long run. I believe it's an opportunity for educators and parents to express their frustration to the embetterment of the public school system.

And the amazing -- I'm going to give you an example of what I'm talking about. When I laid out the plan for Title I students, the focus is on the students, not the system, it says students matter. The focus must be on the lives of our children. Al Gore comes to Texas, and he gives a speech that in essence said, you need to be for me because I will build you more buildings, we will provide more concrete and bricks. I thought the contrast was perfect. He talks about buildings, and I'm talking about saving children's lives. I'm talking about an education system that refuses to leave people behind, an education system that challenges the status quo when there is failure, an education system that has accountability at its core and consequences when there's failure and success. This is a subject about which I obviously feel passionate, because I know what happens in a system that is so processed oriented it it quits on children. What happens is, is that a reporter comes and in front of the governor of this state and the future president says, the schools in this city are failing. And the answer is, let us not accept the status quo and let us challenge the status quo, early before it's too late.

Now, I understand you had a voucher program in this -- in this state that has been declared unconstitutional. I guess I don't know where the status is. But my view is, in local control of schools, we ought to encourage innovation. The government shouldn't -- the federal government shouldn't mandate a voucher program, but a federal government -- if the local authorities so choose, we ought to welcome a menu of opportunity and opportunity for parents to make different choices.

One of the roadblocks in the charter school movement is the construction moneys, is capital budgets as opposed to operating budgets -- a charter school, when it's done right, there's (ph) got plenty of operating money, which is the money follows the child. But one of the roadblocks is capital opportunity. I think it is -- if a state chooses to have a charter school movement in the state that the federal government ought to help with loans in order to eliminate the roadblock of capital improvement. In other words, help states and local authorities build buildings into which the capital moneys can flow.

Eventually who's going to happen in society, if we're going to do it right, is that the units of delivery will become smaller, that the focus will be more on the individual and less on the process. Technology will help with this. Technology is going to help. Now, we'll have -- we may have people in large buildings, a lot of students in buildings, but education has become much more individualized over time, and that's going to be healthy.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

BUSH: No, I was asking -- I was talking about -- yes.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

BUSH: By demonizing people, holding people up for scorn. A leader is somebody who unites, a leader is somebody who leads, a leader is somebody who brings people together for a common good.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

KAGAN: This is Daryn Kagan covering the presidential primary. We've been listening to George W. Bush. He's on the campaign stop in Cleveland, Ohio. We'll keep listening and bring you more in a moment.

(LAUGHTER)

BUSH: Very interesting questions. It's the ultimate hypothetical.

First of all, I don't believe any community would chose to do that. I believe school boards will be balanced in their approach. I do believe it is a local issue. But I believe school boards, dully- elected officials, will be balanced in their approach. And I have no problem with schools explaining to students there are different theories to how the Earth started, there are different points of view as to -- as to the -- as to how our Earth came into being, and we're learning more and more over time as to -- as to what the ultimate truth will be. None of us will actually know what the ultimate truth is, but many of us do believe God created the Earth, and I think that needs to be explained clearly to students.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

BUSH: Well, every primary is important, and I must confess that the press conferences after the primaries that I've won have been more pleasant than after the ones I've lost. We've got a good, strong campaign. Senator McCain is competing hard in the Commonwealth of Virginia to the extent where he's making phone calls accusing me of being an anti-Catholic bigot. That's about as rough as it gets in campaigning. I've got faith in the people of the Commonwealth, the state of Washington. I believe I'm going to win, and we'll find out here within a couple of hours.

I've to go to the next event. Thank you all very much. Appreciate your time.

Yes, John. Wait a minute, I just said we're through.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

BUSH: I don't know if I am or not. I haven't -- I am not the scheduler, you'll be happy to hear; I'm the future president.

(LAUGHTER)

Thank you all. I don't know yet. I'll be glad to comment on it. I'm not sure.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

BUSH: Who did? I did? Said what? He did?

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You'll find out later.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You'll find out later.

BUSH: I can't stay up late enough, and neither can you.

KAGAN: We've been listening to -- we've been listening to George W. Bush as he makes a campaign stop in Cleveland, Ohio. We're coming to you from Virginia, where they're also holding a primary today. Governor Bush, interestingly enough, making a campaign stop at Catholic Charities in Cleveland. Religion has become an issue in this campaign since about the last week when the governor made a campaign stop at Bob Jones University in South Carolina, and institution that has been associated with anti-Catholic rhetoric.

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